Art & Design Magazine

A Very Satanic-looking Little Old Table

By Told By Design @toldbydesign

Told by Design - Herman Melville - The Apple-Tree Table

When I first saw the table, dingy and dusty, in the furthest corner of the old hopper-shaped garret, and set out with broken, be-crusted old purple vials and flasks, and a ghostly, dismantled old quarto, it seemed just such a necromantic little old table as might have belonged to Friar Bacon. Two plain features it had, significant of conjurations and charms—the circle and tripod—the slab being round, supported by a twisted little pillar, which, about a foot from the bottom, sprawled out into three crooked legs, terminating in three cloven feet. A very satanic-looking little old table, indeed.
In order to convey a better idea of it, some account may as well be given of the place it came from. A very old garret of a very old house in an old-fashioned quarter of one of the oldest towns in America. [...]

This is the beginning of a short story about a wicked table, subtitled “Original Spiritual Manifestations”. After describing his way up to the garret—and the garret itself—the narrator finally discovers the table:

[...] I turned inward to behold the garret, now unwontedly lit up. Such humped masses of obsolete furniture. An old escritoire, from whose pigeonholes sprang mice, and from whose secret drawers came subterranean squeakings, as from chipmunks’ holes in the woods; and broken-down old chairs, with strange carvings which seemed fit to seat a conclave of conjurors. And a rusty, iron-bound chest, lidless, and packed full of mildewed old documents; one of which, with a faded red inkblot at the end, looked as if it might have been the original bond that Doctor Faust gave to Mephistopheles. And, finally, in the least lighted corner of all, where was a profuse litter of indescribable old rubbish—among which was a broken telescope, and a celestial globe staved in—stood the little old table, one hoofed foot, like that of the Evil One, dimly revealed through the cobwebs. What a thick dust, half paste, had settled upon the old vials and flasks; how their once liquid contents had caked, and how strangely looked the mouldy old book in the middle—Cotton Mather’s Magnalia.
Table and book I removed below, and had the dislocations of the one and the tatters of the other repaired. I resolved to surround this sad little hermit of a table, so long banished from genial neighbourhood, with all the kindly influences of warm urns, warm fires and warm hearts; little dreaming what all this warm nursing would hatch.
I was pleased by the discovery that the table was not of the ordinary mahogany, but of apple-tree wood, which age had darkened nearly to walnut. It struck me as being quite an appropriate piece of furniture for our cedar-parlour—so called, from its being, after the old fashion, wainscoted with that wood. The table’s round slab, or orb, was so contrived as to be readily changed from a horizontal to a perpendicular position, so that, when not in use, it could be placed snugly in a corner. For myself, wife and two daughters, I thought it would make a nice little breakfast and tea-table. It was just the thing for a whist table, too. And I also pleased myself with the idea that it would make a famous reading-table.
In these fancies, my wife, for one, took little interest. She disrelished the idea of so unfashionable and indigent-looking a stranger as the table intruding into the polished society of more prosperous furniture. But when, after seeking its fortune at the cabinet-maker’s, the table came home, varnished over, bright as a guinea, no one exceeded my wife in a gracious reception of it. It was advanced to an honourable position in the cedar-parlour.

The renewed table doesn’t have only a central part in the parlour, but also in the story, as it is the main character and focus of the whole narration.

Melville, Herman. The Apple-Tree Table; or, Original Spiritual Manifestations. Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art Volume 0007 Issue 41 (May 1856). pp. 465-476.

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